José-Luis Novo Ably Conducts the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra in a Rousing Nationalistic Concert
By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
Two years ago when Kim Kluge left his post as conductor of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO) after a brilliant 28 year tenure, he left gigantic shoes to fill. Judging by the concert I heard on February 11, there are several young, as well as seasoned conductors, who appear to be ready and able to fill that vacancy. Starting in 2015 when they knew that Maestro Kluge would be leaving in the spring of 2016, the ASO board began the search for a new conductor by sending out a call for applications. They received 170 applications and after due consideration, they selected 25 candidates. Then, in January, 2017, they narrowed the field to four finalists. All of those conductors were asked to program and conduct one of four concerts for the 2017-2018 Season.Three of the four finalists for this greatly prized position have now conducted concerts beginning in September, 2017. Each of those candidates programmed the concerts, rehearsed with the orchestra, and performed before large, enthusiastic audiences. Following those concerts audience members were invited to fill out a Conductor Evaluation Form and return it to the orchestra management by a deadline. Announcements were made from the podium about filling out the surveys online as well. After the fourth and final concert on April 8, the Board will meet to tally up all the results of the handwritten and online surveys. Then the board should be able to make a final decision on whom they feel would be the best fit for the ASO. The goal is for the new conductor to lead the orchestra in the Alexandria Birthday Concert in July.
José-Luis Novo, the third candidate who led the orchestra on February 11, acquitted himself very well, I thought. Although I am certainly not a classical music critic, I am a musician, and I think one of the best things about Maestro Novo’s concert was the programming itself. This collection of pieces gave us a world tour which focused on themes of nationalism, ending with Sibelius’ grand Symphony No. 2, his most national of symphonies, composed during Finland’s struggle for independence. During the first half of the program the orchestra performed Verdi’s Overture to “Nabucco” which features the biblical story of the Babylonian captivity of the Hebrews; Debussy’s “Petite Suite”, which was originally written for two pianos, and is based on poetry by revered French poet Paul Verlaine; and Lutoslawski’s “Mala Suita” or “little suite” which draws from his native Polish folk song traditions and subsequently became one of the most popular pieces in Poland in the 1950s.
Maestro Novo, who currently serves as Music Director and Conductor of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra since his appointment in 2005, was born in Spain, currently lives in Annapolis, and has a wide background with an impressive list of orchestras, including serving as Assistant Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under both Music Director Emeritus Jesús López-Cobos and the Cincinnati Pops orchestra under the late Erich Kunzel. Since 1999 he has been the Resident Conductor at the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Only one more audition concert remains before the ASO announces its new Maestro. This concert will feature Nicholas Hersh, who currently serves as Associate Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. His concert selections include works by C.P.E. Bach, Piazzolla and Brahms. And, as I said previously, these concerts are well-attended, so get your tickets early so you can evaluate Maestro Hersh and have a part in the selection of this important position with the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra. To order tickets and for more information, visit www.alexsym.org or call 703-548-0885.